The Sunday News
I was more than 175 kilometres away at my rural home, Sankonjana. Then the mobile phones rang incessantly but given a poor network it was not easy to link up with the callers. The calls were coming from both Bulawayo and Harare.
The mobile phone networks at my rural home are close to a nightmare. One of the callers finally decided to send a message. The good news arrived. Mtshana Khumalo had been declared a national hero by the Government led by President Mnangagwa. I couldn’t have been more excited. It was good news about one who was a military strategist and tactician par excellence.
Mtshana Khumalo, known in military circles as uNdindikuyasa, in reference to his reputation when he commanded the Ndebele armies throughout the night when that was deemed necessary. It was his military exploits in the Imfazo 1 of 1893 (the Anglo-Ndebele War) that won him the honour he more than deserves. It is only when you read about the strategic way he rallied his soldiers in battle against the colonising forces under the command of Major Patrick Forbes that one begins to fully appreciate his rare military attributes against a white force equipped with weapons of a superior nature including a maxim machine gun, isigwagwagwa which was responsible for the hundreds of casualties at the Battle of Gadade in Ntabazinduna on 02 November 1893.
Before we get to the battle where Mtshana Khumalo commanded the armies, it is important to know who Mtshana was. Born about 1832/33 at Mkhwahla (Marico Valley) in South Africa, Mtshana was son of Sinanga who belonged to the iNzonda kaLugebhe, kaMatshitshi ka Mdamba house of the Khumalos. The following were other houses of the Khumalos: eyeSikhosini(Matshobana), uDonda weZiziba, uMamba kaKlekekleke (Bhozongwana), uNgwende (aManyangana). An age mate of Prince Lobengula, he was born after King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana’s royal capital relocated from Mhlahlandlela on the Aapies River which flows through Tshwane(Pretoria). The Ndebele faced pressure from a number of adversaries at the time: the Zulu under King Dingane Zulu, the Griqua(aMalawu/amaHiligwa) and some Sotho/Tswana groups.
There has been a question whether he was Mtshana or Mtshane. Those men that I interviewed decades ago referred to him as Mtshana.
However, he is now generally referred to as Mtshane. This is not unique to his name. Examples abound: Nkulumana/Nkulumane, Halimana/Halimane, Fuyana/Fuyane and many more. Some white authors referred to him as Mtjan. It appears he and other Ndebele people remained behind in Botswana when parties under Khondwane Ndiweni(aMnyama angankomo under Majijili Gwebu) and aMakhanda, under Dlundluluza Dlodlo) and another under direct command of King Mzilikazi(aMhlophe under Gwabalanda Mathe and iGabha under Maqhekeni Sithole). Apparently, Mtshana was in the group that remained behind to keep a watchful eye on forces that would pursue the two advancing groups.
Mtshana’s star rose to prominence when political power within the Ndebele State shifted following the demise of founding King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana in September 1868. Following a two year search for the rightful heir, Prince Nkulumana, Mncumbatha Khumalo and other leading chiefs settled for Prince Lobengula whose mother was Queen Fulatha Tshabalala. Prince Lobengula took some time to move to Mhlahlandlela where his inauguration was to begin. He moved from Tshotsho near Tshabalala in the company of his friends and age mates, one of whom was Mtshana Khumalo. Fusi Khanye and another, and Mafu. Both Mtshana and Prince Lobengula had, in their youths, been conscripted to aMahlokohloko.
The new King selected his own confidants. The elderly men who served under King Mzilikazi were retired. For example, King Lobengula had chosen Maphisa Fuyana to be the Chief of chiefs at KoBulawayo/eNyoken/eNtenjaneni but declined and recommended his relative Magwegwe Fuyana the son of Ngazana kaMgitshima. Maphisa himself was son of Mnengeza kaMgitshima. King Lobengula thus had a new team of advisors. In the military team there was Mtshana Khumalo, uNdindikuyasa. It was time for the new King to establish his own regiments that later turned into villages under chiefs appointed by him. King Lobengula’s first regiment that he established soon after coronation in 1870 was known as Imbizo which became the oldest regiment under the reign of King Lobhengula. Mtshana Khumalo was appointed military commander over
Mtshana’s declaration as a national hero is premised on the exploits and role of this very regiment that he commanded in 1893 both at Gadade in Ntabazinduna and Pupu battles across the Shangani River. There were a number of regiments that were established after Imbizo.
Insukamini was next and Manondwane Tshabalala was appointed over the regiment which in later years was positioned near Gweru. Under Manondwane it gains many regimental praises:
Insukamini: (One that departs in broad daylight), Ibhinda litshone (They fight till sunset), Umadladlule njengentethe (They eat(destroy) and move on like a swarm of locusts), Insukamini eyakhela umkhaya (They depart in broad daylight and settled near an acacia tree) :(Nyathi, P 2000 Alvord Mabena: The Man and His Roots)
Imbizo itself was located along the Bulawayo-Inyathi road, just beyond the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport. After colonization the farm where Imbizo was located was known as KoMasayiboko. The site is not far from Koce River-before crossing it where there was a village, Ingwegwe, under Mkhanyeli Masuku, the son of Madlenya. Today the area, not far from uMfaz’umithi Hill, is identified by thickets of acacia trees, ugagu.
Imbizo was a multi-ethnic regiment. This is to say it incorporated people of surnames such as Bhebhe, Ndlovu, Dube, Sibanda in addition to the Nguni men. Its members were drawn from many parts of the country. The surname Mufiri derives from the idea where some men from the Tributary State were selected to serve within the Ndebele State, including military service within the regiments. Beyond the Tributary State which paid tribute in exchange for protection there was what I term the Raided State.
It is important to know that the central part of the Ndebele State comprised the Core State which was characterised by total assimilation in political social, cultural and military terms. The Core State was surrounded by a Tributary State which included areas that fell under the jurisdictions of chiefs such as Lukuluba(Huruba, a son of the last Lozwi Mambo), Nhema(Ndema) and Lozane(Ruzane). The surname Mufiri should be understood against this background. Some families within the Tributary State sent men to spend time taking part in the regimental duties activities and other national chores. They figuratively and sometimes literally died for their relatives who sent them. After service the men returned to their homes. There were such men who fought as part of Imbizo under Commander Mtshana Khumalo. Some of them became casualties during the Pupu Battle of 1893.
It was Imbizo which defeated Zwangandaba regiment under the command of Mbiko kaMadlenya Masuku whose regiment/village was located at present day Queens Mine and later extended across the Mbembesi River, at a place today known as eNgazini on account of the blood that was spilt during the civil war against Mbiko Masuku. It was after that battle in 1872 that King Lobengula changed the name of his capital town from KoGibixhegu to KoBulawayo.
It should be appreciated that Mtshana Khumalo was not a chief but a military genius who commanded not just Imbizo but other regiments assigned under his command. Regiments selected to go on a military mission were placed under the command of such men. One such was Mkhithika Thebe, real name Mhlongana kaNkolotsha. These also participated in the initial military training of conscripted young men, ugalo lwesizwe. Imbizo had, by this time, earned itself regimental praises:
Insuka litshone (When it(Imbizo) departs the sun sets), Intamo yenkunzi (The strong and powerful neck of a bull), UBhiyozo ozibunu zibomvu (Bhiyozo whose buttocks are red).
Apparently, Bhiyozo was a man whose buttocks were red from birth. Whenever Imbizo was fighting some pitched battles, Bhiyozo would leap forward and expose his awkward-looking buttocks to the enemy who perceived the phenomenon as a bad omen. The trick worked in favour of Imbizo.
Once Insukamini had been established other regiments were created during the reign of King Lobengula such as Ihlathi, ihlathi lokuphephela amakhosi under Matshe Sithole, Ingubo under Fusi Khanye, Isiziba, also under Mtshana Khumalo, Umcijo under Mluba Thebe, iQandalengwenya under Ngogodo Thebe, Ingubo under Fusi Khanye. Many of these regiments were rallied in the battles to resist colonial penetration in 1893. Mtshana became overall commander of the forces both at Gadade and Pupu.
While at Gadade the Maxim machine gun developed by American Engineer Hiram Maxim, the Ndebele forces, in particular Imbizo was defeated, it was a different story at the Battle of Pupu in the morning when Mtshana displayed his military genius when he deployed the forces in such a strategic way that the battle went in his and his soldiers’ favour. He successfully defended the monarch but failed to save the monarchy.
Let’s end with the Khumalo family’s praises (INzonda) to which Commander Mtshana belonged:
UHlomuzamkhont’ usand’ ukulolwa,
Intamo ingadana laseMhlathuze,
Wena ntamo yenkosi,
Eyazondel’ uMatshoban’ ehlathini,
(Nyathi, P. 2000 Izibongo Lezangelo ZamaNdebele KaMzilikazi. Reach Out Publishers: Pietermaritzburg)
l The next article will dwell on his military genius, in particular at the Battle of Pupu across the Shangani River , in present day Lupane District.